Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinians crossed Israel’s borders in opposite directions yesterday as a thousand-for-one prisoner swap brought joy to families but did little to ease decades of conflict.
In one of the biggest ever such exchanges between the two sides, a pale and gaunt Sgt. Shalit was flown to his parents’ home in northern Israel after more than five years held incommunicado by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, while a first 477 of over 1,000 Palestinians to be released under the bargain left Israeli jails for Gaza, the West Bank and abroad.
Flag-waving crowds greeted long unseen loved ones as heroes and uncompromising talk on either side left few illusions for world leaders who urged Israel and the divided Palestinian factions to build on the long-awaited bargain brokered by Germany and Egypt to reopen wider peace negotiations.
In an interview with Egyptian television as he passed through on his way from Gaza, a visibly weak and dazed Shalit, 25, said of 5,000 Palestinians who remain in Israeli jails: “I hope this deal will promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
But, while leaders made mildly conciliatory comments about each other’s role in achieving the deal, there was no sign of warmth across the frontline of the struggle for land and security between Palestinians and Israel.